Is A Pigeon Faster Than The Internet?

[Jeff Geerling]’s latest project is for the birds — literally. Even though he has a brand new high-speed fiber optic internet connection, online backups of YouTube video projects still take hours. He decided to see if the conclusions from a 2009 in South Africa study still hold true today — that using carrier pigeons to send files can be faster than the internet. [Jeff] sets up an experiment to send 3 TB of data by homing pigeon a distance of one mile to establish a baseline. Next, [Jeff] sends the same 3 TB of data over the internet, and donning the cap of honorary pigeon, simultaneously embarks on a journey by air to his off-site backup service in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.

[Jeff] points out that you also have to consider the transfer time of your files onto and from the pigeon-suitable memory cards. He jumped through several hoops to minimize that, but it still consumed 2-1/2 hours total. Trying to keep the comparison fair, he also spent a couple days optimizing his internet connection to eek out the best possible speed. Continue reading “Is A Pigeon Faster Than The Internet?”

Engineering Vs Pigeons

We’ve all been there. Pigeons are generally pretty innocuous, but they do leave a mess. If you have a convertible or a bicycle or even just a clean car, you probably don’t want them hanging around. [Max] was tired of a messy balcony, so like you might approach any engineering problem, he worked his way through several possible solutions. Starting with plastic crows, and naturally ending with an automated water gun.

The resulting robotic water gun that targets pigeons with openCV is a dandy project and while we don’t usually advocate shooting at neighborhood animals, we don’t think a little water will be any worse than the rain for the pigeons. The build started with a cheap electric water pistol. A Wemos D1 Mini ESP8266 development board provides the brainpower. The water pistol wouldn’t easily take rechargeable batteries, plus it is a good idea to separate the logic supply and the pump motors, so the D1 gets power from a USB power bank separate from the gun’s batteries.

That leaves the camera. An old iPhone 6S with a 3D printed bracket feeds video to a Python script that uses openCV. If looks for changes using a very particular algorithm to detect that something is moving and fires the gun. It doesn’t appear that it actually tracks the pigeons, so maybe that’s a thought for version 2.

Was it successful? Maybe, but it does seem like the pigeons learned to avoid it. We still think azimuth and elevation on the gun would help.

Most of the time when we see pigeon hacking it is to use them for nefarious purposes. [Max] should be glad he doesn’t have to deal with lions.

Sensor-Laden Pigeons Gather Data For Urban Weather Modeling

When it comes to gathering environmental data in real-world settings, urban environments have to be the most challenging. Every city has nooks and crannies that create their own microenvironments, and placing enough sensors to get a decent picture of what’s going on in all of them is a tough job. But if these sensor-laden pigeons have anything to say about it, the job might get a bit easier.

The idea for using pigeons as biotelemetry platforms comes to us from the School of Geography, Earth, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham in the UK. [Rick Thomas], lead investigator on the “CityFlocks” project, explains that meteorological models are hampered by a lack of data about the air in the urban canyons formed by tall buildings. Placing a lot of fixed sensors has a prohibitive cost, and using drones to do the job would probably cause regulatory problems, especially given recent events. But pigeons are perfect for the job once they’re outfitted with an “Avian-Meteorology Instrumentation Package (AvMIP)”. From the photographs we’re guessing the AvMIP is a pretty simple data logger with GPS and inputs for the usual sensors, all powered by a small LiPo pack. Luckily, the pigeons used are all domesticated racing birds that return to the nest, so no radio transmitter is needed, but if other urban avians such as peregrine falcons and seagulls are used then a future AvMIPS might leverage pervasive WiFi networks to upload data.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen mobile platforms used to fill in gaps in weather data, of course. And if this at all puts you in mind of that time pigeons were used to guide bombs, relax – no pigeons were harmed in the making of this research project.

Thanks to [Itay Ramot] for the tip [via Gizmodo].

Hacking When It Counts: Pigeon-Guided Missiles

The image of the crackpot inventor, disheveled, disorganized, and surrounded by the remains of his failures, is an enduring Hollywood trope. While a simple look around one’s shop will probably reveal how such stereotypes get started, the image is largely not a fair characterization of the creative mind and how it works, and does not properly respect those who struggle daily to push the state of the art into uncharted territory.

That said, there are plenty of wacky ideas that have come down the pike, most of which mercifully fade away before attracting undue attention. In times of war, though, the need for new and better ways to blow each other up tends to bring out the really nutty ideas and lower the barrier to revealing them publically, or at least to military officials.

Of all the zany plans that came from the fertile minds on each side of World War II, few seem as out there as a plan to use birds to pilot bombs to their targets. And yet such a plan was not only actively developed, it came from the fertile mind of one of the 20th century’s most brilliant psychologists, and very nearly resulted in a fieldable weapon that would let fly the birds of war.

Continue reading “Hacking When It Counts: Pigeon-Guided Missiles”

PJON, Fancy One Wire Arduino Communications Protocol For Home Automation

PJON, pronounced like the iridescent sky rats found in every city, is a cool one wire protocol designed by [gioblu].

[gioblu] wasn’t impressed with the complications of I2C. He thought one-wire was too proprietary, too complicated, and its Arduino implementations did not impress. What he really wanted was a protocol that could deal with a ton of noise and a weak signal in his home automation project with the smallest amount of wiring possible.

That’s where is his, “Padded Jittering Operative Network,” comes in. It can support up to 255 Arduinos on one bus and its error handling is apparently good enough that you can hold an Arudino in one hand and see the signals transmitted through your body on the other. The fact that a ground and a signal wire is all you need to run a bus supporting 255 devices and they’ll play nice is pretty cool, even if the bandwidth isn’t the most extreme.

Aside from the cool of DIY protocols. We really enjoyed reading the wiki describing it. Some of the proposed uses was running your home automation through your ducting or water pipes (which should be possible if you’re really good at isolating your grounds). Either way, the protocol is neat and looks fun to use. Or check out PJON_ASK if you want to do away with that pesky single wire.

Old Timey UAV Cameras

These brave birds are weapons of war. Well, not these actual birds… they’re just models used for this photograph courtesy of a taxidermist. But their living relatives were used to take spy photographs during World War I. [Dr. Julius Neurbronner] didn’t suddenly jump into the field of avian photography. He, like his father before him, used homing pigeons to deliver prescription drugs in loads of up to 75 grams. This makes us wonder if the birds are ever used in modern drug running?

The inspiration came when the doctor found out about subminiature cameras available at the turn of the twentieth century. Those cameras included a tiny roll of film, allowing for several images to be taken. He figured out a way to make a timer that used a pneumatic system to trigger the shutter in the camera. You can see a diagram of the timer mechanism here. The idea is that the birds will always be able to find their way home. So if you take them to a starting point that puts the enemy lines in between them and home base, they’ll fly over and get some juicy recon in the process.

That’s pretty old school. But we’re still tying things onto birds these days. Here’s some modern tech that uses sun-up/sun-down to track travel habits.

[Thanks F via The Atlantic]

Homing Pigeon Email


Yes, you read that correctly: electronic mail carried by birds. [Ferdinand] tipped us off to this story, which involves combining new and old methods in transferring data. The Unlimited Group, a firm in a remote section of South Africa, transfers loads of encrypted documents to a second office 50 miles away. A pricey broadband connection would take between 6 hours and two days to transfer a standard load (4GB) of data between these locations. On the other hand, Winston (seen above) can complete an equivalent flight within 45 minutes. A memory card is strapped to his leg, and using his wit and instinct, Winston finds his way home. For those without their calculators on hand, Winston’s bandwidth is between 7x and 63x faster than what they had before. If his flash card were to be upgraded to 16GB, that would be an instant fourfold increase on top of current gains. As [Mark] pointed out on the Daily Mail website, homing pigeons still need to be taken back to their departure point.

This solution still has its advantages over a courier: they are lower in cost, they work over longer hours, and have potentially faster delivery speeds. Multiple pigeons can be transported back at once, and released with data as needed.